What if you were going through the worst possible depression ever? You were in and out of hospital. You or a social worker had kept your workplace informed. You exhausted your FMLA, your mandatory 12 weeks leave for illnesses that the government allows. You didn’t hear anything negative, or positive, from your employer. You kept in touch. Probably not often enough, but you assumed you still had a job. Other people in your company have taken extended leave before. They must have been somewhat happy with you. You received three promotions in seven years.

My leave ran from late December, to late March, 2017. I burned through multiple hospitalizations, residential and outpatient programs. In October my psychiatrist declared me ready for work, only for part-time. I reached out to my employer to see if that would be feasible. The response:

As of now, [employer]* does not have a part time position available but I will keep you in mind if something were to change. There are full time roles available that you can apply to should anything change.”

And that folks, is how I found out I am unemployed. Nice, huh? I understand, that by law they did not have to hold my job, but a letter or a phone call would have been real nice. I was told that my social worker was informed in February that my position would not be held, and that [employer] held it for me, well past March. That’s great, but I still didn’t know any of this until I tried to return to work.

So here I am in April the following year. I have not worked for over fifteen months. I’ve done bits of volunteering (not much), been going to A.A. every day, had a few more (okay – a ton more) hospitalizations, done several programs, and seen my shrink on a very frequent basis. My husband and I have talked about me staying at home on a more permanent basis. My husband had to hire a nanny last year, when I was at my worst, because I could not take care of the kids, in or out of hospital. Once I have a track record of stability, and staying out of the hospital, we will let the nanny go.

I have started writing. It really started only four weeks ago, while in the hospital. It turns out I’m actually quite good. I need to find a way to capitalize on it. I have started a novel. I don’t know if it will be good enough, for it to go anywhere. We will see. Who knows, maybe I will actually make some kind of career out of it. Or maybe it will just be a hobby, which is great. I’ve finally found something I enjoy. All I enjoyed before was booze, sex, and shopping. Spot the addict!

I know I do not want to return to software engineering. I never really enjoyed it. I did in school, but once it was a full time job, the novelty wore off. I feel like my career has been stagnant the whole time I was with [employer]. I know I got several promotions, but that was more for the excellent relationships I had with the business side of the house. I was the chief communicator within our project’s team. I have always been good with people, and had a way with words. That’s a rare thing in programmers, so I was all the more valuable. If I were to get a software position, it would have to be much lower on the totem pole, than my ten years experience would suggest it be.

So the big question is what next? Can we afford for me to stay home? Is that what I want? Do I have the patience to be a stay at home mom? If not, what does that say about me? Working and trying to get the kids to school, pick them up, cook dinner, repeat ad nauseam is soul crushing, and draining, especially when you do not enjoy your work. I did enjoy the last year of my employment with [employer]. I was still doing some programming, but mostly acting as a kind of project manager, and task-oriented project task man. I loved the extra communication the job required, and the structure of knowing what had to be done, knowing you (and the team) could do it, and making sure it was done. I no longer dreaded going to work. I thought about becoming a Project Manager, bought a book on the PMP exam (the gold standard qualification for P.Ms). And then promptly became ill.

I would love to love my job, whatever it will be. I know it is likely that I will have to take a pay cut. That is okay. I just want to do something I enjoy. And of course, since I have significant physical and mental illnesses, I need excellent health insurance. I am lucky to go to one of the best hospitals, with some of the best doctors. That cannot change. After some of the places I’ve seen, I’m never leaving where I am. I guess I would go to the hospital of my former [employer]. It is also excellent. As long as I could get over the mountainous chip on my shoulder!

And so I’ll wrack my brains, for as long as it takes, to find something to do. I thought about working in Starbucks part-time, just to get out of the house, and talk to adults. I loved bartending, and I figure Starbucks is as close I will get, that is a sober workplace. Once I get any job, I will lose my long-term disability paycheck. I have been receiving 60% of my former salary since January 2017. Once I get any paying job, it shows I am not disabled anymore, and so the paycheck disappears. I also get health insurance from my former employer, that we pay $570 for each month, until I lose my long-term disability. In many jobs my insurance would not be as good as it is now. Mine is about as good as it gets. Don’t worry. My psychiatrist will not sign off on any more disability paperwork once he feels I can work. At the moment my hospitalizations are too frequent to allow me to work. Obviously I want to get better more than anything. Once I feel ready, I hope I will have been divinely inspired, and know what I want to do.

Finally. As the saying goes, “the devil finds work for idle hands.” The worst time for me, when I am most likely to act out, is when I have an empty schedule. My psychiatrist seemed petrified, as I am, that I have no program to attend, and no therapist at the moment. He wants to see me weekly now, to keep me on track. That is why I am writing so much. I need to stay busy, which I haven’t done in the past, which has screwed me up time and again.

* One of the top universities in Chicago, with 24,000 employees.

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